The Indian Ocean: Cradle of Globalization


NEH 2002 Summer Institute at the University of Pennsylvania


University of Pennsylvania Museum, 33rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, PA
Four Week Schedule, July 8-August 2, 2002

From July 8 to August 2, 2002, the Institute introduced participants to the historical and cultural dynamism of the Indian Ocean and to the place of its littoral populations in world history. Though perhaps not as familiar to American students and educators as the Atlantic or Mediterranean worlds, the Indian Ocean has been one of the most important arenas of commercial and cultural interaction from ancient times to the present. For the many peoples living around its shores, the Ocean provided not only livelihood and a challenge for sailors and seafarers, but also a busy corridor channeling crops, people, and ideas between Asia and the Near East, and Africa. The Indian Ocean’s pearl-divers, pirates, and religious pilgrims provided a rich source of folklore for the oral and written literatures of Arabia, East Africa, and South Asia. Kings and princes from three continents sought to exploit its wealth; imperial expeditions from China, India, and Portugal in early modern times gave way to Dutch, British, and French empire builders in the modern era. And all the while, musical, architectural, and philosophical ideas continued to diffuse throughout the Indian Ocean world, creating countless variations on a shared cultural heritage.

For four weeks, these and other themes with the help of specialists in disciplines ranging from geography and anthropology to religious studies and ethnomusicology have been studied. In addition to hearing from established specialists like Andrew Watson (professsor emeritus of Economics at the University of Toronto) and Edward Alpers (professor of History and African Studies at UCLA), the Institute was joined by innovative young scholars who have been developing new ideas and approaches to the study of world history, currently becoming a staple of college and university curricula throughout the country. The Institute’s co-directors, historian Lee Cassanelli (specialist in Somalia and the Horn of Africa) and anthropologist Brian Spooner (specialist in South Asian and Iranian studies) served as guides throughout the summer, providing commentary and continuity. Both have extensive experience working with high school and college teachers in global studies, and together they have team taught a freshman course on “Globalization” for the University of Pennsylvania’s new pilot curriculum. The co-directors were assisted by co-ordinator Robert Nichols, professor of South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, who recently introduced a new Indian Ocean history course at his institution. Finally, participating fellows themselves have played a leading role in developing classroom lectures and modules for their students.